String Music: How a basketball coach started a choir

By Michael Hemphill, Director of Marketing and the Annual Fund

The traditional purpose of an “annual report” is to acknowledge the individuals who have made a financial contribution during a fiscal year to a nonprofit organization.

Here at Roanoke Catholic School, we are blessed to publish an annual report that spans page after page of donors willing to invest their hard-earned dollars into the programs and people that make possible so much of what happens both inside and outside these walls. In these pages, you’ll recognize the names of RCS parents, grandparents, alumni, past and present teachers and administrators, businesses and friends who faithfully fund our mission of “blending learning with faith and faith with daily life.”

But we’re blessed to have people who, in addition to their treasure, also give the other two “t’s”: their “time” and “talents.”

Julie Whalen

I think about Todd Brickman and Anita Jeyakumar who, as new RCS parents in 2016, started a Chess Club that now has 20 kids meeting every week and regularly competing in chess tournaments around Roanoke.

Or Julie Whalen who has coordinated the Shamrock Hill Run the last two years along with helping promote our Roanoke Valley Gives Day … when she’s not busy selling concessions out of the “Green Onion” during home volleyball and basketball games.

Or the Home and School Association “Fab Four” – Regina Alouf, Kristine Safford, Kim Yeaton, and Ann Kovats – along with Angela Adkins and Adam Algeier, who are the behind-the-scenes workers of most RCS events, from the Homecoming Gala and Grandpals’ Day to Donuts with Dad and Muffins with Mom.

Dave Burns

Or Rick Bowyer who, even though his son Zach graduated in 2013, still serves as our sound guy at athletic events. And fellow past parent Dave Burns whose Native American presentations educate and astonish our students.

Or Randy Myers who coordinates our bitty basketball program. And Bob Price, whose stipend for coaching Celtics football doesn’t begin to repay his investments in the team, which included buying all the players’ 2016 state championship rings.

Our children aren’t the only ones inspired by such giving.

Al Connelly

Four years ago, my oldest daughter, Naomi, had just joined the RCS middle school basketball team, which was being coached by two of her classmates’ dads, Al Connelly and Dan Fittz. Some practices, the girls were joined by the middle school boys’ team led by RCS parent Burman Clark.

Day after day, I’d watch these three men share their time, their experience and their patience to nurture these kids – my kid! – into becoming better versions of themselves.

Seeing their dedication made me look in the mirror. Why wasn’t I doing something? What could I do?

My jump shot has always been terrible and I never could hit a curveball, so athletics didn’t seem a good fit to give of my time.

But ever since I was 8 years old, I’d always sung in a choir. So in 2013 I offered to start a school chorus. Somehow a dozen RCS kids were willing to overlook the shortcomings of their director and join. And that’s how a basketball coach started Roanoke Catholic’s Celtic Singers.

On December 3, the RCS choir – now 35 students strong – together with the band under the direction of Drew Mabry and the Drama Club led by April Corbett, will present the school’s first ever “Lessons and Carols” service in St. Andrew’s Catholic Church.

This service, which dates to the late 1800s, features nine Scripture readings accompanied by anthems and hyms, which tell of the fall of humanity, the promise of the Messiah, and the birth of Jesus.

In one of my favorite anthems, In the Bleak Midwinter, the last verse asks of us:

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would give a lamb.
If I were a wise man, I would do my part.
But what can I give Him?
Give Him my heart!

Here at the start of this Christmas season, I thank everyone who gives their heart to Roanoke Catholic School.